25 September 2007

The more things change...

As the months pass, it becomes more and more obvious that the climate is changing. Yet many of the developed nations of the world, particularly the United States and Australia continue their recalcitrant foot-dragging ways, refusing to enact even the simplest measures to combat anthropogenic climate change.

In a just-published study in Geophysical Research Letters, there is now a suggestion that we have weakened the so-called Walker circulation, the Pacific-wide east/west circulation, an crucial part of the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon. Record sea-level pressures in Darwin, Australia, weaken trade winds and high sea surface temperatures in the Pacific are all linked, resulting in a period of unprecedented El Nino dominance of the climate. These changes are profound, and destined to wreak further havoc on the climate system, particularly in Australia.

AS events unfold, more of the populace of the world seek positive climate action. Two of three people polled in a 21-nation survey indicate that 'major steps' are needed soon to effectively combat global warming. Eighty percent believe humans are the source of the observed climate change.

At the same time, the leaders of the world's two leading emitters of greenhouse gases, the United States and Australia (per capita), remain with their heads stuck in the sand, refusing to take meaningful action. Bush refuses to attend UN climate negotiations organized in New York to kick off post-Kyoto negotiations for fear of 'damaging the economy'. Alexander Downer, Australia's Foreign Affairs minister, says we need to move on from the Kyoto protocol (which it is not a part of), apparently preferring the 'aspirational' targets of the toothless APEC proposal negotiated a few weeks ago in Sydney. The nations seem to be waiting for some technological miracle (which may or may not come), rather than making the hard choices required to effectively manage the situation.

To be fair, not all of the citizenry of these two countries are ignorant of the dangers of climate change. Australia's top policeman notes that the impacts of climate change are the biggest security threat of the future. US-based studies are suggesting that centralized coal and nuclear power plants should be phased out in favor of alternate energy sources. Australians also desire alternate energy sources, but would prefer some subsidies from the government to lower the cost. The token gestures made to date are not satisfactory.

There is hope and the time to act in these countries is coming soon. An election is immanent in Australia, expected to occur by the end of the year. National US elections will be held in little over a year. The citizenry of these nations must see through the sophistry of the current leadership and elect insightful leaders who are willing to place the environmental and climate issues of the forefront of the public policy agenda where they belong. The stakes are high and the time for dithering is past. We must act now to insure stability for future generations.

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